Eric Douglas Published

Fayette Man Sentenced For Clean Water Act Violations

Water flowing from a drain pipe into a stream
Dirty water flows from the pipe into the river, environmental pollution. Sewerage, treatment facilities.
andrei310/Adobe Stock

For years, toxic water pollutants including arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and selenium were allowed to flow into Jarrett Branch, a tributary of the Kanawha River near Alloy, West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued several warnings to the owner of the landfill who allowed it to happen, but those warnings were ignored. 

Now, Michael Graves, 68, of Charlton Heights, has been sentenced to one year of incarceration, to be served on home confinement as part of a five-year term of federal probation, and fined $10,000. His company, West Virginia Environmental Services (WVES), was fined $500,000 and placed on corporate probation for three years. These sentences were handed down for violations to the Clean Water Act. 

According to court documents and statements made in court, Graves and WVES owned and managed an industrial waste landfill in Fayette County. Graves and WVES were paid more than $9.8 million from 2006 to 2020 to accept industrial waste and treat the resulting leachate. Leachate is a contaminated liquid that passes through a landfill and includes toxic materials. It must be properly treated prior to discharge into a stream or tributary. No new waste was accepted at the Fayette County landfill after 2008, so the sole remaining task of Graves and WVES was to collect and treat the leachate.

Graves and WVES failed to maintain the landfill’s leachate collection for several years beginning in at least 2016. This failure on the part of Graves and WVES caused the discharge of leachate that contained toxic water pollutants into Jarrett Branch.

Inspectors from the DEP repeatedly documented the illegal discharges into Jarrett Branch, resulting in numerous notices of violations issued to Graves and WVES. The Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the landfill has since lapsed and has not been renewed.

“Mr. Graves and WVES continuously and repeatedly allowed discharges of untreated toxic industrial pollutants into the nation’s waters, despite having been paid millions of dollars to properly maintain the landfill,” U.S. Attorney Will Thompson said. “The defendants abused the public trust that accompanied the issuance of the discharge permit. This outcome, which includes the maximum possible fine against WVES, reflects the egregious nature and circumstances of the offenses and is necessary to promote respect for the law and to deter similar criminal conduct.”

Graves and WVES each pleaded guilty to one felony count of violation of the Clean Water Act on Feb. 22, 2023. Senior United States District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. imposed the sentence.